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New DelhiJune 6In a bid to cash in on the popularity of online chatting, Bharti Airtel has launched an instant messaging service that will allow users to chat on their mobile handset.

Instant messaging is being seen as the next biggest killer application for mobile operators after SMS.

While Airtel is offering the service free of cost till August 31, the company is likely to offer a monthly or yearly package after the introductory period. Other operators are also expected to launch the service shortly.

This service will give all Airtel mobile customers the advantage of having the same experience as a desktop chat service.

Airtel Messenger users can send and receive messages in real-time via their mobile without the need to be attached to a computer.

The service also offers various personalised options of usage, including status tag options.

It also gives the users the advantage to convey multiple emoticons while in conversation.

The company is expecting significant revenues from the service starting next year.

Access to other messenger services such as Yahoo! and MSN will also be offered shortly.

The service is being targeted at youth and young professionals.

To download the Airtel Messenger service, all Airtel customers with GPRS-enabled handsets can register by sending `IM' SMS to 57070.

After registration, they can create their own messaging communities by adding friends from their phone book or manually adding new friends.

The Airtel move comes after the GSM Association announced an initiative to make instant messaging as popular and ubiquitous among mobile users as text messaging.

As part of this initiative, 15 of the world's leading mobile phone operators plan to roll out instant messaging services that will work across networks.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 7, 2007)
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